Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Repulsion (1965)

Title: Repulsion (1965)

Director: Roman Polanksi

Writers: Roman Polaski, Gerard Brach, David Stone

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux,


Repulsion was Roman Polanski’s first English language film. He wanted to make a commercially successful film so that he could get funding for another film he wanted make (Cul-de-Sac) so when he was invited to direct this film, he accepted. Repulsion’s producers were aiming to make a film along the lines of Alfred Hitchcock’s incredibly successful Psycho (1960). You know, a thriller, with a spooky vibe and a shocker of an ending which always included some kind of a twist. This kind of film was very popular during the sixties, with every other studio and producer trying to get their Psycho-like film made. For example, Hammer Films was one of the studios to really exploit this formula, producing films like Taste of Fear (1961) Nightmare (1964) and Paranoiac (1963). Roman Polanski’s Repulsion was part of that wave of films that came as a response to the success of Hitchcock’s Psycho, but I would hate to refer to it as a knock off or cheap imitation because it is so much more than that. Repulsion is actually one of the finest examples of a film in which the main character slowly but surely descends into madness.

The story for Repulsion concerns a working girl named Carol. Carol works in Kensington, London as a manicurist. Making rich old ladies look good. Carol lives with her sister Helen in a small flat. But there is one problem; Carol suffers from a condition known as androphobia. She is afraid of men, and finds any sort of physical (or even social) contact with them repulsive. Men try to go out with her on dates, but she does everything in her power to refuse their offers. And when she does go out, she behaves in the most awkward fashion. She is physically and psychologically uncomfortable around men. Another problem comes when her sister Helen has an affair with a married man, and she can hear her sister having sex in the room next door. Helen’s lover becomes yet another reason for Carol to be uncomfortable in her own home. But, Helen and her lover are going on a vacation to Italy, and will leave the apartment at the care of Carol for a couple of days. It seems like finally, Carol will have peace in a male free environment. Will this isolation make Carol happy? Or will she sink deeper into her phobias?

Of course, you know the answer that question; she is going to sink deeper into her phobias. What I found interesting about this movie is how little by little you can notice that there is something kind of odd about Carol’s behavior. She does whatever she can to avoid a young mans advances, she goes out with him but doesn’t want to kiss him. She hates the fact that her sister allows her lover to stay over at their apartment. She spaces out at work, falling asleep while working, making mistakes. In the first half of the film, Roman Polanski in collaboration with actress Catherine Deneuve worked hard to make sure we understand that Carol is not really right in the head. On many scenes (actually practically the whole movie) Deneuve blankly stares into the void, her thoughts drifting away into her own private world. While the films first half gives us little hints of Carol’s dementia, it isn’t until the films second half - when Carol’s sister decides to go on vacation with her lover- that the movie really dives into Carol’s decent into madness; for she is left all alone to fight with the demons of her mind.

One of the things that makes Repulsion a special film is its direction. Polanski focuses on the strangest things, and uses the weirdest angles to let us know that Carol is nuts. She will stare at something for long periods of time, and Polanski will let us see what she is looking at, and in a strange way, because the way the scene is illuminated or the angles that Polanski decides to use, we feel Carol’s insanity. It’s all about the strange and unconventional camera angles. Polanski really squeezed a great performance out of Deneuve. Reportedly, Polanski pushed Deneuve’s buttons during filming so that her anger and fury would be reflected on her performance, and it did.

Catherine Deneuve has the responsibility of carrying a large part of this film on her shoulders because for most of the running time, it’s just her, alone in her apartment with her hallucinations and nightmares. Her visions include hands coming out of walls to grab her, people raping her and walls cracking and turning into silly putty. I liked how the disorder in the apartment is representative of her mental state. The cracks that appear in the walls represent her fractured psyche, and her sexual nightmares represent her repressions. In this apartment everything symbolizes something about Carol’s decomposing mental state. This is a technique that has been used in many films that imitate Repulsion, for example Lucky McKee’s May (2002) and David Koepp’s Secret Window (2004) starring Johnny Depp. These are films on which the character’s home represent the way they are feeling or thinking. In Repulsion, we see decaying food, we see a bath tub overflowing, we see walls cracking, all of which let us know that Carol is definitely cracking up.

The film was shot on black and white, which gives everything a grimier dirtier look. Polanski wanted to capture the life of two working girls that live bordering on poverty and survival. I thought the film captures this sort of desperation that the working class can live through. It caught the desperation of the working class to pay the rent, to not be late for work, to live life at a frenetic pase. It also captures the claustrophobia that you can feel when living in a small apartment. By the way, Repulsion along with Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976) compose what is known as Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”, three films that all take place mostly within the confinements of a small apartment.

In conclusion, this is one of the best “decent into madness” movies I have ever seen. It shows us a character which slowly disintegrates until by the end of the film, she is an uncontrollable mess of a person. A wreck of a human being, not at all in control of her actions. It has some really stylish direction from Roman Polanski and I would highly recommend it to lovers of horror and psychological thrillers. One of Polanski’s best films.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Repulsion- Criterion CollectionThe TenantRosemary's Baby


Mr. Fiendish said...

a perfect film. my favorite of Polanski's. Catherine Denueve is so good in this that it should be illegal.

Franco Macabro said...

This was my first time watching it, but I was blown away by it, its defenetly my favorite Polanski film so far. Up next for me is The Tenant, expect a review for it sometime next week!

Gideon Strumpet said...

I love Repulsion. Denueve is excellent and absolutely gorgeous in this film. The lack of dialogue in the film is very effective, and her descent into madness is totally believable. Polanski entering his prime here. The Tenant is not considered to be one of his best, but I have always loved it. Very eerie and creepy. I think you'll like it. Thanks.

Franco Macabro said...

The lack of dialog worked wonders, any other less experienced filmmaker would have flooded the film with a lot of voice over, but the absense of dialog actually adds to the unnerving feeling the film has.

Agree about Deneuve, she's stunningly beautiful, she walks around in her practically transparent nightgown for most of the film.

Dont know why, but I feel that I will enjoy The Tenant as well, cant wait to see it! Thanks for commenting.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Nobody does paranoia better than Roman Polanski. Denueve's frailty and vulnerabillity is married perfectly to the claustrophobic mise-en-scene. Amazing to think this was made during the so called 'swinging' London period - an age of youthful optimism and counter-cultural progression - this is very much the nightmarish flip side to this and maybe a more realistic vision of life in London for a foreigner in the mid 60's. THE TENANT by the way Franco is my favourite Polanski film so I'm looking forward to your review on that.

Franco Macabro said...

That swinging Londong atmosphere you mention I think was also captured on the film. There is one scene where Carol's would be suitor is hanging out with his friends, expressing his preocupation with Carol's mental state, and one of them is like "be happy! Enjoy life! Forget that crazy girl!" So I think the grand majority of young people were pretty happy during those was Carol who was a little out of tune with the times.

Cant tell you how much Im looking forward to The Tenant! Polanski plays a role himself on that one doesnt he?

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Not just any role - he's the lead character! He also had a promient role in THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, and his little cameo in CHINATOWN in which he cuts Nicholson's nose is unforgettable.

Franco Macabro said...

Oh yeah, I loved that scene in Chinatown! It was so convincing how they filmed it, it almost looks like they really did cut off Nicholson's nose!

Yeah, I saw the Fearless Vampire Killers, its such a strange movie. In one way it felt like he was making a parody of Hammer films. It was kind of slow paced, but it had such lush production values, its a very misunderstood film, but quite enjoyable in an odd way.

Simon said...

I love this movie. Though I always took the madness angle, the sexual repression, all that, to imply sexual abuse or something.

Anyway, Polanksi and Denueve do a fantastic job at creating mood and tension while nothing really happens.

Franco Macabro said...

@Simon: It is implied in the film that Carol was abused by her dad at some point. There is a scene with a man raping her in her room, and then theres something about that last shot in the film, the one where she has that freaky look on her face when she was a kid...

I thought it was so funny, on one of the interviews they do to Polanski about the movie, when they ask him about the meaning behind Carol's madness Polanski replied "Its a free country, you can think what you like, but don't ever ask me about the meaning behind my films"

I Like Horror Movies said...

A flawless review for a flawless film, Im with the guys, I absolutely love REPULSION, and certainly consider it to be one of Polanski's finest films. It is like a living, breathing visual metaphor.

Franco Macabro said...

So its pretty much settled that Polanski's Repulsion is a nearly perfect, if not entirely perfect film! Ive got The Tenant waiting to be watched tomorrow, so expect that review by monday or tuesday!


Related Posts with Thumbnails